HOCKEY: Ards secure highest ever EuroHockey finish

Ards' Lucy McKee.
Ards' Lucy McKee.
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It was a case of mission accomplished for Ards in Lithuania as they retained their second-tier status at the EuroHockey Indoor Club Trophy tournament in superb fashion.

Not only that, but they finished in fifth place - one position higher than their initial objective - after rounding off their campaign with an undefeated final day.

They began with a 2-2 draw against French champions, Lille, and that left them needing the same outcome against Partille to keep themselves in the second division next year.

Ards went into the break 1-0 down but second-half goals from Lucy McKee, Chloe Brown and two from Amy Benson secured them a 4-1 victory and a best-ever finish in Europe as other results went in their favour.

Setting it in context, Ards’ achievement was truly remarkable for several reasons not least because they travelled with only 10 players instead of the regulation 12 due to player availability issues.

In addition, three of their players, Ellen Robinson and teenagers Jane Kilpatrick and Alana Doyle have had very little experience of indoor hockey and were making their European debuts.

And, in perhaps the biggest factor stacking the odds against them pre-tournament, Ards went to Lithuania without the preparation of a proper indoor league over the winter months, an advantage all their opponents enjoyed.

“We are absolutely delighted at our achievement although the girls were absolutely exhausted in the last match after playing five games in three days,” said Ards captain Caroline Adams.

“While we won the Partille game 4-1, it was far from easy and after we scored our second goal with 10 minutes left, they went hell for leather as they needed to win.

“They took their goalkeeper off in order to have an extra outfield player and it was only then that we made the game safe when Amy scored twice in the last couple of minutes.

“The girls showed magnificent character throughout the tournament and put their heart and soul into it and now they’ve got their reward.”

On Saturday, Ards ran the eventual silver and bronze medallists close, losing 2-1 and 1-0 to Dundee Wanderers and East Grinstead respectively.

Benson scored the go-ahead goal against the English side, who hit back with two in the second-half while Dundee scored with the last action of the game.

On Friday they had lost 8-2 and 7-2 against Lithuanian and Ukrainian opposition but those results were quickly forgotten amidst the euphoria last night as the Ards players and coaching staff celebrated their magnificent achievement.

EuroHockey Indoor Club Trophy: Saturday: Ards 1 (A Benson) East Grinstead 2; Ards 0 Dundee 1; yesterday: Ards 2 (A Benson, C Brown) Lille 2; Ards 4 (C Brown, L McKee, A Benson 2) Partille 1